Compiled by Phil Meadley
Released by Nascente on 21st June
“South Africa’s Skylark” shows that Miriam Makeba was not only arguably the first world music superstar but also a socially-conscious artist on a par with the likes of Nina Simone & Marvin Gaye. CD1 features her classic traditional performances – folk ballads and swinging South African jazz – whilst the potent funk, jazz & soul on CD2 reflects her pivotal involvement in, and commitment to, the civil rights, anti-apartheid & Black Power movements.
Miriam Makeba was a remarkable woman: a civil rights activist, mother and grandmother but above all a musician – becoming the first black African woman to win a Grammy Award (which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965). She had five husbands, survived health scares and family tragedies, was exiled from her beloved South African homeland, courted controversy in the US by marrying Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael (after divorcing fellow South African legend, Hugh Masekela) and made a string of hugely popular singles and albums from the fifties right through to the nineties.
“South Africa’s Skylark” takes the listener through the musical journey of Miriam’s life. With timeless traditional numbers and classic standards such as ‘ Pata Pata’ and‘ The Click Song’ Miriam’s Afro-pop edge has been represented alongside her edgier, funkier side with poignant and extremely soulful civil rights songs such as ‘Soweto Blues’, ‘Murtala’, and ‘Talking & Dialoging’. There are also several tracks from her years as an exile in Guinea, when she was recording for the government-sponsored, but pretty damned cool, Syliphone label.
With English language tracks and excellent covers of Jorge Ben’s ‘Mas Que Nada’ and Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, as well as songs from the Guinea years and back-to-roots albums, ‘Sangoma’ (1990) and ‘Homeland’ (2000), her sheer versatility and open-mindedness is highlighted.
Scratch the surface and you quickly discover that there was far more to her than ‘Pata Pata’ and ‘The Naughty Little Flea’. As she said in a later interview for an American publication: “I love to watch other artists. I learnt a lot from watching the microphone enunciations of artists such Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra. I think you never stop learning until the day you die.”
Although suffering from health problems including osteoarthritis, Miriam continued to perform wherever she was wanted. “Everyone keeps calling me and saying ‘you have not said goodbye to us!’” – she said at the time. And it was that on stage in Naples that she died. She was there singing at a concert in memory of six immigrants from Ghana that had been shot dead, allegedly by one of the city’s mafia-style syndicates. She suffered a heart attack after singing her biggest hit ‘Pata Pata’, and the outpouring of emotion around the world as news spread as palpable. She was 76 years old. She was, and will forever be, a much-loved entertainer. Not for nothing was she known throughout the world and across generations as “Mama Africa”.